Updated: Mar 30, 2021
By Jennifer Ide, R.BIE, CNP
Nearly 2,500 years ago, Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates said that “all disease begins in the gut.” Even though it was a very long time ago, it looks like Hippocrates knew what he was talking about. There seems to be a very close relationship between the gut and overall health. When your gut health is not good, disease and illness can ensue. Modern science is making a connection between poor gut health and various diseases/conditions including Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, liver diseases, gastrointestinal cancers, obesity, type 2 diabetes, autism and allergies (1, 2). Ensuring that our digestion is working well and that our gut is healthy will increase our chances of achieving overall health, wellbeing and vitality.
How To Know If Something Is Off In Your Gut
A healthy gut is able to break down food, absorb nutrients and eliminate waste efficiently. Also, it carries within it a good microbiome. The microbiome is the summation of all the microbes living on and in you (ex. bacteria, viruses, fungi). The friendly gut bugs are responsible for many functions like digesting your food, making vitamins (ex. vitamin B12 and K2), offering protection against other bacteria that can cause disease, and regulating your immune system. Given the many important functions of your gut microbiome, it is very important that you keep the good critters happy, and keep the bad ones at bay.
There are some signs of an unhealthy gut. Here are some key ones:
You often have pain — If you are experiencing pain like heartburn, abdominal distress, stomach aches, something is most likely off. Depending on the location of the pain, you can gain insight into where along the digestive tract the issue may be. For example, with heartburn, the issue may be in the upper part of the digestive tract in the stomach. It is not uncommon for heartburn to be a result of low stomach acid levels. Inadequate amounts of stomach acid results in the poor breakdown of food and the inability of food to easily move along the digestive tract to continue getting broken down. The food sits in the stomach for longer periods of time, where undigested carbohydrates begin to ferment and proteins begin to putrefy, producing a lot of gas as the byproducts. These compounds can then back up into the esophagus, causing a burning sensation felt close to the heart.
Lots of gas and bloating — Frequent belching, flatulence, and bloating are very common and usually normal. When coupled with other symptoms, such as constipation or pain, this could be an indication that something needs to be addressed. There are many causes for gas and bloating including eating too quickly, dysbiosis, food intolerances, or low stomach acid. It is highly advised to work with a practitioner to help you identify what may be causing your gas and bloating.
Bowel movements that are too slow or too fast — The amount of time it takes for food to travel from your mouth, through your intestines and into your toilet is referred to as your transit time. The ideal transit time is usually around 24 hours (give or take a couple of hours). An easy way to figure out your transit time is to eat a whole bunch of red beets and see how long it takes for them to come out the other end (look for pink colored stools). A short transit time is often associated with diarrhea, leaving your body with possible nutrient deficiencies and electrolyte imbalances. The food is passing through the digestive tract too quickly for any nutrients to be absorbed. If diarrhea is a common issue for you, it is important to stay hydrated and rule out the possibility of a gastrointestinal infection. On the other hand, if your transit time is too long, you are constipated and may need to boost your intake of water and insoluble fiber, as well as, increase your level of exercise.
The look of your poop. You can tell a lot about your gut health from your poop. You want your stools to be well-formed, dark brown, without any undigested food in them, and not floating at the top of the toilet bowl. On the Bristol Stool chart, you want to be a “4.” (See Bristol Stool Chart by clicking the link in the reference section) (3). Depending on where you are on the chart, you may have to address a gastrointestinal infection, increase your stomach acid or enzyme levels, switch up your fiber sources, increase your water intake and/or add an exercise regime to your daily routine.
What to do about it right now
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, here are some suggestions to quickly get you back on track. They are as follows:
Eat slowly — We currently live in a world, where everything is instant. We are always on the go. There isn’t anything wrong with being busy and efficient, but when it comes to digestion, one of the worst things you can do is eat quickly without any mindfulness. Taking the time to enjoy your food, and breathing in between each bite, will help your body digest food better. Digestion requires a lot of energy. When we are on the go and all hyped up, energy is diverted away from our digestive tract to directed to our skeletal muscles. This ends up slowing down our digestion. Getting into “rest and digest” mode and eating slowly allows energy to be directed to our digestive system, making the process run much more smoothly and efficiently.
Chew a lot — Chewing helps to break down large pieces of food into smaller pieces. This takes the load off the esophagus and stomach to have to do more work than necessary. Also, chewing helps to release a lot more saliva, which contains digestive enzymes. These help to chemically break down your food. Ensuring that your food is broken down well will increase the nutrients available for absorption. Since the number of chews to sufficiently break down your food will depend on the type of food, a good rule of thumb to follow is to chew until the food loses its texture.
Get your stress under control — Your nervous system is divided into the parasympathetic nervous system and the sympathetic nervous system. The former puts you into a “rest and digest” state, whereas, the latter puts you into a “fight and flight” state. The vagus nerve is heavily involved in the parasympathetic nervous system, and when it’s activated, it puts you into a more calm state, one that is ideal for digestion. Ways to reduce stress and activate your vagus nerve, and therefore, your parasympathetic nervous system include: Humming and singing, Rinsing your face with cold water, Using deep breathing exercises, where the exhalation is longer than the inhalation
Identify foods that your body doesn’t like…..yet — It’s very common for people to come across foods that don’t agree with them. Identifying the culprits can be done by keeping a food diary, where you track everything you eat/drink and your symptoms. Look out for any trends that you see and keep in mind that the symptoms can appear up to 3 days after eating the culprit food. To find a quicker and more thorough way of identifying potential foods that are problematic for you, you can consider BIE. BIE stands for BioEnergetic Intolerance Elimination. It is a health modality that helps to identify what the body does not properly respond to, and then normalizes the body out to that particular substance. BIE is very useful, since it can identify foods, but also the various components within foods like fats, sugars or proteins, that may be an issue.
Get proper guidance and help — Diet adjustments and supplementation may be necessary to help get your guts working optimally. However, it is important to keep in mind that these changes need to be made on a personal basis and with caution. This is because everyone’s genetics, biochemistry and situations are different. To avoid making your symptoms worse and to get the best results, it is highly advised to work with a practitioner that understands gut health very well. Find a Naturopathic Doctor, Holistic Nutritionist, or Herbal Medicine Practitioner that you really connect with to guide you.
If you are interested in optimizing your gut health, book an appointment with our BIE Practitioner and Holistic Nutritionist, Jennifer Ide. You can book your appointment online here or simply call us at (416) 214-9251.
Wang, B. et al. (2017). The Human Microbiota in Health and Disease. Engineering. 3, 71-82.
Mohajeri, M.H. et al. (2018). The role of the microbiome for human health: from basic science to clinical applications. European Journal of Nutrition. 57 (Suppl 1), 1–14. 3. WebMD Medical Reference. (2020). Bristol Stool Chart.
Please note that content on this website is intended for informational purposes only, and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional, nor is it meant to diagnose or treat a health problem, symptom or disease. Always speak with your physician or other healthcare professional before taking any medication or nutritional supplement, or using any treatment for a health problem. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem, contact your health care provider promptly. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking professional advice because of something you have read on this website. Information provided on this website DOES NOT create a doctor-patient relationship between you and any doctor affiliated with our website.